From April 5-6, Fr. Vien Nguyen, members of the Provincial Council, and Br. Frank Presto (provincial secretary) met in Chamberlain, SD, for a planning retreat. Sr. Cathy Bertand, SSND, who has worked with the SCJs at a variety of province events, was facilitator.
Prior to the gathering, three pillars of focus were identified: Spirituality, Community, and Mission and Ministry. Familiar topics, they have been repeatedly raised by members of the US Province as priorities, most recently at the January 2022 Province Election Assembly.
Reflection on each of the pillars began by identifying its characteristics, starting with: “If someone was observing you as a community, in the area of spirituality, what two things would they see?” The community’s focus on oblation, the idea of serving the Church through the offering of oneself and the community, was noted. Words such as “welcome of the spirit,” “life-giving,” “regenerative,” “Eucharist-based,” “hospitality,” and “reparation,” were identified.
But there was also an awareness of the evolution of many of these concepts. Years ago, the focus of “reparation” in the SCJ context was on making up for one’s own sinfulness. Now, reparation has a wider meaning that looks at ways to “repair” the challenging issues of our world.
And while there is a basic “Dehonian spirituality,” there are different interpretations of it. In a province that is becoming increasingly multicultural, councilors acknowledged that there are nuances, even within a local community, as to how Dehonian spirituality is understood and lived. One of the challenges is to welcome diversity, while also identifying universal components of Dehonian spirituality. “Our charism is bigger than any one culture,” said a councilor. Spirituality is more than a prayer style or form.
How to move forward? Councilors spoke of the need for creating more opportunities to nurture and share Dehonian spirituality with members of the community, but also with employees and others with whom SCJs collaborate, benefactors and the public at large. The 100th anniversary of the SCJ presence in the United States is a key opportunity for this.
For SCJs, retreats and renewals were suggested, including the possibility of more frequent, shorter sessions on a particular topic begun at the province level (perhaps through a Zoom meeting) and continuing in local communities.
There is a desire to expand Dehonian resources and study tools, making Dehonian spirituality more accessible and applicable to daily life, ministry and prayer. Webinars on Dehonian themes, or giving a Dehonian perspective on current events, were discussed, as was more extensive use of technology in general.
Councilors reflected on how community life has changed. Older members spoke of a time when there were shared cars, televisions and even radios. Watching the television became a community event out of necessity since there was just one TV. But nostalgia doesn’t always recall the full story. For example, if a car belonged to no one in particular, often no one in particular took care of it. Communities look different now: they are often smaller, and its members might all be involved in different ministries with different schedules.
Instead of being nostalgic for the past, how does the province live community life in the reality of today?
There is joy in community, and most SCJs have a genuine desire to be together. They care for each other. How can the tools for healthy community life be enhanced, such as communication, intentionality, patience, tolerance, and affirmation? Councilors acknowledged that such skills can’t be built within a single workshop, but need to be nurtured in ongoing, creative ways. Councilors also want to offer more support for local superiors, including a return to some type of regular meeting among them.
Mission and Ministry
The final pillar –– Mission and Ministry –– is the one that many gravitate to when the words “planning” and “future” are placed together. What are we going TO DO in the future? Where are we GOING TO BE in the future? Councilors focused on several questions: how does the province staff its ministries, how does it move forward with the continued desire to do something new, what makes a ministry Dehonian, how does the province continue to collaborate with the worldwide congregation, and how do SCJs better partner with their lay colleagues?
Acknowledging the greater role of lay collaborators in SCJ ministries, councilors emphasized the need for Mission Education that goes beyond the large gatherings held every three or four years. Also, how can core Dehonian values be more overtly identified so that they can be shared with province employees and others?
It is important to nurture creative thinking that can lead to new ministries, but also creative thinking is needed in seeking new ways to serve current ministries. How does the province cultivate future leadership for its external and internal ministries, both lay leadership and SCJs? Succession plans for key positions will an upcoming priority for the council.
The two days together were a time to identify priorities for the province and lay a foundation for the three pillars of Spirituality, Community, and Mission and Ministry. Beginning in May, the first morning of each Provincial Council meeting will be devoted to creating the concrete steps needed to move forward on these priorities.